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Smeltzer: Good for Sean Clifford

Sean Clifford

UNIVERSITY PARK, P.A.— Sean Clifford did something that Trace McSorley, Christian Hackenberg, Matt McGloin and Daryll Clark couldn’t do.

It’s something Anthony Morelli technically did, but he only played in one White Out game, so should that really count?

Clifford played in three White Outs— we won’t count 2020, which didn’t have close to a full audience— and won all of them. 

The last of those three might have been the most impressive.

When Clifford was announced as the starting quarterback Saturday night against Minnesota—well, he technically introduced himself through a pre-recorded video—, fans booed. 

Fans booed more when Penn State’s first three drives ended with two three-and-outs and a rough Clifford interception.

 


When the game ended and 
Penn State won 45-17,  nobody booed. 

Clifford regrouped to have possibly his best performance of 2022, finishing 23-for-31 with 295 yards, four touchdowns and a 92.9 quarterback rating. 

His QBR was the highest he posted over a full game since 2020’s season opener at Indiana (94.8). 

Penn State needed a win against Minnesota to save hopes of having a successful season. 

He needed to play well after sub-par performances in consecutive games against Northwestern and Michigan. 

The former happened largely because of the latter.

That was the case Saturday night and in Clifford’s previous two White Out wins. 

Against Michigan in 2019, Clifford threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Against Auburn last year, Clifford went 28-32 for 280 yards and two scores. 

I wasn’t in attendance for the Michigan or Auburn games, but I’d guess the quarterback wasn’t booed before those games like he was before Minnesota.

In 2019’s White Out, Clifford was still a young QB, making his seventh career start. 

By 2021’s White Out, Clifford had become more polarizing, but Penn State wasn’t coming off a brutal loss on the road against a conference rival. 

Although he arguably had more impressive stats against Auburn, the Minnesota game, to me, was more impressive because of the pressure surrounding the program.

Fans shouldn’t have booed Clifford or coach James Franklin, who got the same treatment when he introduced himself. But they did because of the negative feelings surrounding Penn State football after the Michigan loss. 

Clifford, naturally, was asked about the boos after the game. 

His response was flawless. 

He didn’t complain. He didn’t rip the fans that booed him, although it would have been well-deserved because who boos a college football player on the home team before a game?

Instead, he answered the question like a pro. 

 

“I really just have a lot of trust and care for the people in the program,” Clifford said. “The coaches and players.

“They (the fans) can think what they want to think, but I’m going to focus on what I can do on the field. I’m going to give my heart, my soul every single time I step onto that field, and nobody can take that away from me. So I know that for a fact. But, yeah, I’m just going to focus on the program, the people on our team, and then that’s about it.”

Many people, including myself, discussed the possibility of freshman sensation Drew Allar starting Saturday’s game. 

We didn’t know how healthy Clifford would be after he left the Michigan game in the second half with an injury. 

If Clifford was hurting, he didn’t show it, and we don’t know if Clifford can keep it up next Saturday against Ohio State.

Clifford has, at most, eight games left as Penn State’s starting QB. 

He’ll probably frustrate Penn State fans some more before he’s done and won’t be remembered as fondly as McSorley or Clark. 

Both of those guys won a Big Ten championship, a feat Clifford probably won’t accomplish.

Clifford likely won’t be as beloved as McGloin was, either. McGloin rose from being a walk-on to leading the 2012 “Iron Lions” squad to an improbable 8-4 finish in the program’s first season after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. 

Clifford is undoubtedly more polarizing than either of those two and perhaps any QB in Penn State history. 

But as far as the White Out games are concerned, McSorley lost to Ohio State in 2018, Clark lost to Iowa in 2009 and McGloin lost to Ohio State in 2012. 

Whether fans like it or not— and based on the boos mentioned above, some won’t— Clifford never lost a White Out, and no matter what happens for the rest of his career, he’ll always have that. 

Good for him.

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